Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Learning about the City

Yesterday I went to my second softball game with my new "league." Really it's just a bunch of guys that meet at a certain time and place with beer and gloves who organize themselves loosely into teams and play until it gets too dark to continue! I had a respectable day at bat, managing some nice hits. A lead-off double in the second inning, however, was my best play of the day. As I was coming up to second base I could see that the second baseman was about to catch the ball and possibly tag me, so without even thinking about the consequences I slid into the base to roaring applause. Maybe that wasn't such a good idea considering that I was wearing shorts. Nasty scape on my left thigh!

Looking up at the Toronto skyline, smelling the cigarettes and beer, I find myself thankful that I live in a very cool city. I find Toronto much more livable than, say, L.A. For one thing, as my new softball friends demonstrate it is much easier to get to know people in this city!

Today I spent most of the day at a "Pastors' Day" Workshop held at the Yonge Street Mission. We met in a brand new, immaculate community centre the Mission just built. Most of the workshop was taken up by a presentation by Dr. David Hulchanski analyzing demographic data for the last 39 years in Toronto. He and his team have done some amazing work just documenting trends involving poverty in the city. In a nut shell, since 1970 the income desparity in the city has gotten much greater as the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. But it's also true that the neighbourhoods have become much more segregated both by income and race. The well-off have established themselves in the core of the city (think everything south of the 401 between Bathurst and Leslie) while the poor have moved to the northeast and northwest of the city. Indeed, there are really three different cities in Toronto that equate to three distinct experiences and cultures of Toronto City Life.

This map shows the change of average income by neighbourhood from 1970 to 2005. Pretty interesting, isn't it, too see how much the city is changing. There was a time when some of those blue striped areas weren't upwardly mobile at all!

To learn more about this check out the Greater Toronto Urban Observatory or read Hulchanski's paper: The Three Cities Within Toronto.

It seems most likely that this trend of increasing income disparity is the result of lots of little policy changes that were made in the late 80's and kept through the 90's. In particular, the cuts to social services and various forms of "deregulation" seem to have had a role. But at Dr. Hulchanski pointed out, if this trend was caused by lots of little decisions it could also be reversed by lots of little decisions.

(Interesting factoid: 50% of all immigration to Canada settles in Toronto.)

After the presentation and lunch we spent a few hours brainstorming about possible responses our church could have to the problems arising from these patterns. After that I headed back to church. I felt very in touch with the city as I read the Metro on the TTC Subway and digested more of the presentation I had just heard.

Back at church... Ordered some business cards (for some strange reason I never got around to doing that before). Answered some e-mails and returned some calls. Getting ready to call it a day...


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